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Response to higher education legislation report

20 February 2014

UCU today said alternative providers of higher education should face tougher regulation. The union was responding to a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) which looks at higher education legislation.

HEPI says the current higher education sector resembles an 'unkempt meadow' when it comes to regulation of different education providers, rather than a level playing field. The report, 'Unfinished Business? Higher education legislation', also says that the process through which alternative providers of higher education can access public money for student support has become more rigorous.

UCU said alternative providers of higher education were still not subjected to rigorous enough checks on quality or student number controls and said the enormous increase in public subsidies they have received in recent years was a real cause for concern.

Alternative providers accessed £269,739,458 of state funding in 2012/13, almost three times the £100,069,600 they received the previous year. The union said the amounts of public money involved are now so large that far greater scrutiny is required.

Alternative providers do not have to observe student number controls, do not have the same level of quality checking as public universities and do not have to provide information that would make them accountable for the public money they receive. Yet £270 million of publicly-backed student support is being paid to them by the department for business, innovation and skills (BIS) - 3.4% of all the money dispensed by the Student Loans Company.

UCU also questioned if alternative providers should be receiving a larger slice of the diminishing cake that is state funding for higher education. Last year, BIS has had to stop 23 alternative providers from recruiting any more students and receiving public funds, as the department was already £80 million over budget.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We have seen the amount of money alternative providers are receiving from the state grow massively in recent years. In just the last year, the public funding they received trebled to £270m - that is 3.4% of all the money the Student Loans Company hands out.

'Should education providers, who are not subject to the same rigorous quality checks as our public universities, receive a larger slice of taxpayers' money at a time when the budget for universities is being cut?  We would argue that the very least we need is a freeze on further recruitment until a proper regulatory regime is in place.'

Last updated: 10 December 2015